NEWS AND ARCHIVE FOOTAGE
Since the invention of cinema, it has of course been impossible to imagine and think about history, especially history and its wars, without involving this new medium. Not only because cinema was keen from the outset to reconstruct, through fictional narrative, the violence historically unleashed on the battlefield, but also because film’s very existence marks a drastic change in the information that can be conveyed about war. Cinema, both a continuation and development of the previous work of photography, immediately took on the role of archiving the reality of history. Hence, since the late 1890s, the Lumière brothers tasked operators with bringing back Views, including those illustrating history as it unfolded: ceremonies, coronations, public events, etc. This was the very definition of “news”: history now seen and conveyed in the present. The cinematic ideal was to make event and image coincide and it turned out that war was the historic event par excellence. And with every event, the race then began: get there first, as quickly as possible, try to get close to the event is it actually unfolded (as soon as it became technically possible, armies would take film cameras with them, and journalists would attempt to get as close as possible), choose the most explosive and spectacular moments, try to maximise the visibility of the scene.
Within the space of one century, from the war of 1914-18 (where confrontations would be reconstructed as realistically as possible after the event) to the battle scenes of today (in which anybody armed with a mobile camera phone can now become an archivist), we observe the journey that has been accomplished. The history of cinema is the history of a shortening of the distance between the event and its representation.
And within this history, we would surely be wrong to make a hasty distinction between archive footage on the one hand and reconstruction on the other, to set the techniques of the journalist and documentary-maker against those of fiction. It is no coincidence that during World War II, Hollywood filmmakers were called upon to tell the story of the ongoing war, with the most acclaimed of directors, John Ford, at the head of the American propaganda…
Footage captured live from the battlefield is mixed with shots created by directors of fiction without a second thought. Fictional war narratives incorporate news and archive footage. Conversely, so-called “archive” divisions have realised the power of fiction and undertaken a number of fictional productions. The session dedicated to humour from the exhaustive collections of ECPAD (the Ministry of Defence’s archive institution) provides a novel illustration of this unexpected aspect of “photography on the front line”.
Filming today’s wars, with the proliferation of screens and the virtual simultaneity between the moment of capturing the event and the moment of viewing raises new questions, forcing us to re-examine the relationship of with the viewer. Thierry Thuillier, reporter and head of news for France Télévisions, has a unique insight and involvement in the development of current affairs, an insight that he will share with us at the Festival.
It is at the intersection of this multiplicity of interwoven relationships between fiction and reality that Serge Viallet invites us to revisit and interpret this archive footage. His “Archives mysteries” are all miniature “whodunnits” showing a hidden side to the moving images we thought we knew so well, being part of our common historical and visual heritage.
It is exciting to see all of this footage together, to understand how wartime archive pictures inspire subsequent fiction and to gain an awareness of how fictional narratives become the filters through which we imagine the events reconstructed.
SB & PB